We would be poor ecologists indeed if we did not believe that the principles of ecology apply to all facets of the world around us and all aspects of human endeavor. So, when we wrote the first edition of Ecology, it was a generalist book, designed to overcome the opposition of all competing textbooks. Much more recently, we have been persuaded to use our 'big book' as a springboard to produce a smaller, less demanding text, Essentials of Ecology (also published by Blackwell Publishing!), aimed especially at the first year of a degree program and at those who may, at that stage, be taking the only ecology course they will ever take.
This, in turn, has allowed us to engineer a certain amount of 'niche differentiation'. With the first years covered by Essentials, we have been freer to attempt to make this fourth edition an up-to-date guide to ecology now (or, at least, when it was written). To this end, the results from around 800 studies have been newly incorporated into the text, most of them published since the third edition. None the less, we have shortened the text by around 15%, mindful that for many, previous editions have become increasingly overwhelming, and that, cliched as it may be, less is often more. We have also consciously attempted, while including so much modern work, to avoid bandwagons that seem likely to have run into the buffers by the time many will be using the book. Of course, we may also, sadly, have excluded bandwagons that go on to fulfil their promise.
Having said this, we hope, still, that this edition will be of value to all those whose degree program includes ecology and all who are, in some way, practicing ecologists. Certain aspects of the subject, particularly the mathematical ones, will prove difficult for some, but our coverage is designed to ensure that wherever our readers' strengths lie - in the field or laboratory, in theory or in practice - a balanced and up-to-date view should emerge.
Different chapters of this book contain different proportions of descriptive natural history, physiology, behavior, rigorous laboratory and field experimentation, careful field monitoring and censusing, and mathematical modeling (a form of simplicity that it is essential to seek but equally essential to distrust). These varying proportions to some extent reflect the progress made in different areas. They also reflect intrinsic differences in various aspects of ecology. Whatever progress is made, ecology will remain a meeting-ground for the naturalist, the experimentalist, the field biologist and the mathematical modeler. We believe that all ecologists should to some extent try to combine all these facets.
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